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Beyond the 8's: WTOP's Man About Town hangs up his tux, retires

Wednesday - 1/1/2014, 8:40am  ET

Bob Madigan (WTOP/Shannon Finney)
WTOP's Bob Madigan is retiring after 50 years in broadcasting. (Courtesy of Shannon Finney Photography)
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Looking back at stories Bob Madigan has covered

WTOP's Michelle Basch reports.


WASHINGTON - They say "time flies," but do they really mean at supersonic speed?

The last 20 years of my life have been devoted to WTOP. It certainly doesn't seem that long -- and maybe that's because it has been the best place that I've ever worked.

I don't say that lightly, because I have had some really awesome jobs, including nearly 12 years with the NBC Radio Networks in New York. Before that I spent three years with CBS in L.A., and before that ...

Let's just say it has been a 50-year career, topped off at WTOP.

For most of my time here, I have been privileged to be able to create and become "WTOP's Man About Town." This identity grew out of my personal need to dull the constant drumbeat of negative news that one deals with as an anchor at an all-news radio station.

I really felt that my mental health was at stake, and so I presented an idea to then-WTOP Program Director -- and long-time mentor -- Jim Farley.

He and I thrashed it around, and then we presented it to then-General Manager Steve Swenson. The three of us worked to really fine-tune the idea.

What emerged was not exactly what I had originally thought; it was so much better.

My new role got WTOP more involved in the community, covering stories that were not breaking news. These stories had one common thread: they were always about positive news.

None of us can remember who actually came up with the name "Man About Town," but we knew it was the right handle.

While we were presenting it to the sales department, one account executive excused himself. And when Jory Stieber returned a few minutes later, he announced that the new feature already had a firm sponsor.

The new "WTOP Man About Town" would get about town in a new Lincoln Town Car. That wonderful relationship lasted three years. In the 14 years of MAT -- as it is known, internally -- we had several wonderful sponsors, including Dar Cars, BMW and Rockville Audi, to name a few.

Most importantly to me, was that we were able to stick to the original mission: shine a spotlight on positive news.

Listing the best of these is a daunting, if not impossible, task, because each year I covered more than 600 events -- events being a generic term I used for stories, because some events produced several stories, and those are harder to quantify.

The most heartwarming of these events typically involved injured service members.

There are many organizations doing good works for these men and women, but the stand-out for me is the Friday Night Dinners for patients at Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval Hospitals.

Marty O'Brien and Hal Koster, business partners at Fran O'Brien's Stadium Steakhouse, started the Friday night steak dinners in 2003. The restaurant then lost its lease, so Koster and some of the other organizers started the Aleethia Foundation to keep the project alive at venues all over the area.

Since its beginning, Koster and O'Brien have helped thousands of severely disabled warriors get reacclimated to the real world and see that "life is still good" through therapeutic recreation and the Friday Night Dinners.

But I have also covered several other fabulous organizations with good works -- - - the Leukemia Lymphoma Society, the Komen Global and National Races for the Cure, Hexagon, The Cappies, Make-A-Wish, The Helen Hayes Awards, Alzheimer's Association, Chris for Life, Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind, SkateFest, Step Africa, Food & Friends, Epilepsy Foundation, Girl Scouts, Ms. Wheelchair D.C and so many more.

During my stint as Man About Town, I believe that I went through nearly 40 tuxedos. I wore a tux nearly every night to cover fundraisers and galas for thousands of worthwhile organizations and causes.

Not all of the tuxedos wore out. Often they would "shrink" from all of the great food I was "forced" to enjoy.

By 2005, I had gained so much weight that Jim Farley suggested I do a public weight-loss initiative.

My dear friend, and now my "fitness doc," Dr. Pamela Peeke, signed on to help me lose 50 pounds.

She and I reported on my progress, which included some slips, for the one-year endeavor, which we determined would be the healthiest way to lose the weight. Having Dr. Peeke by my side and coaching me made it very possible.

Easy? No! Fast? No! But doable. It was a plan that included exercise (I prefer an elliptical trainer to all else), a change in eating habits and no alcohol until I met my goal.

I did lose the 50 pounds. I also gained back 20 pounds, but lost those again, too. Of course that meant I needed a new tux every month or so.

Now I have only two, and both are the same size. If it's tight, then the weight is not right. This method forces me to be more vigilant.

At one time or another, I've seen all of the museums and monuments D.C. has to offer.

I cruised on the U.S.S. Sequoia Presidential Yacht several times with injured servicemen and women, as well as Mikhail Gorbachev, the last General Secretary of the Soviet Union.

I spent the millennial New Year's Eve at the White House watching President Clinton, first lady Hillary Clinton and Chelsea Clinton as they greeted each guest personally. I was close enough to hear one of the three trying to call each guest by name before the military aide could announce the name.

From there, I went to the roof of the Hay Adams Hotel to watch the special fireworks show. I watched more than a dozen Fourth of July fireworks displays from that spectacular spot overlooking the White House with the Washington and Jefferson Monuments in clear view.

And I had the honor of being a parade route announcer for two presidential inaugurations. Thanks to the Chief Presidential Inauguration Parade Announcer Charlie Brotman, I was one of the announcers for George W. Bush's first parade and Barrack Obama's second parade. For George W.'s parade, I was paired with Meat Loaf, who certainly added "color commentary."

Indeed, there are so many wonderful opportunities that I've experienced in order to share the special, non-political and positive sides of Washington with WTOP listeners. I could spend the next 20 years recounting them all.

Editor's Note: Off the 8's is a WTOP Living feature, in which staff inside the Glass-Enclosed Nerve Center share stories from their lives when they're off the clock.

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